Speech by the Minister for Foreign Affairs ahead of United Nations Day

Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström at Stockholm Concert Hall, 21 October 2016.

Check against delivery.

Friends of the UN,

I would like to begin by thanking the United Nations Association of Sweden for inviting me here to this celebration of United Nations Day.

As Minister for Foreign Affairs, and as a human being, I am proud of the great commitment to the UN that exists in Sweden – and of the work that Sweden has done in the UN ever since we became a member 70 years ago.

You know as well as I do: the UN is the world's most important platform for international peace and security. The UN is a matter for all of us.

We need an effective UN with popular support that is in tune with the times.

That was true yesterday. It is true today. And it will be true tomorrow.

And in times like ours, I think you will agree that the UN is needed more than ever – along with belief in the UN and commitment to the UN.

I would therefore like to thank you for continuing to spread knowledge of the UN in Swedish society.

Over the next twenty minutes I will speak about three areas.

Firstly: what is the situation in the world, and does the UN still play a role in the changes we want to see?

Secondly: what is Sweden's responsibility, and what can a small country like Sweden do?

And the third and most important question is also the theme of this year's seminar: what is Sweden's role on the UN Security Council?

***

Friends,

We live in troubled times. One terrible act of terrorism is followed by another. Millions of people are fleeing wars and disasters.

We hear reports every day of terrible human suffering – from war-torn Syria to hurricane-struck Haiti.

The threat from authoritarian leaders, the questioning of democracy, growing isolationism.

And this is despite the fact that our greatest need is for more cooperation, more multilateralism.

How can we manage to tackle the challenges of our time?

I am convinced that the UN can and must be part of the answer. And there are many good examples of the UN functioning as the forum for peace that we want to see.

Because 2015 was a year filled with major UN agreements.

I'm thinking of the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai.

I'm thinking of the International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa.

I'm thinking of COP21 in Paris.

And, of course, I'm thinking of last year's agreement on the new Global Goals for Sustainable Development and the 2030 Agenda.

Through the 2030 Agenda, the countries of the world have committed to ending poverty and hunger everywhere; to combating inequalities within and among countries; to building peaceful and inclusive societies; to protecting human rights and promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; and to ensuring the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources.

This agreement and this commitment are a triumph for the UN system as a concept and as a platform for decision-making.

But now we have to translate these into practice, and this depends not only on the UN as an institution, but also equally on the Member States.

If we are to live up to the new Global Goals, we need a strong and effective UN.

Naturally, Sweden will continue to work for this.

And I am grateful that you – Sweden's civil society – are helping us to help the UN.

* * *

Friends,

Commitment to the UN is part of the Swedish national identity.

More than 80 000 Swedes have served in UN peacekeeping operations, and Sweden has taken part in most UN operations since 1948.

Dag Hammarskjöld, Alva Myrdal, Jan Eliasson, Hans Blix, Folke Bernadotte, Staffan de Mistura – who will be joining us here today – have all worked for peace in the service of the UN.

And it is perhaps significant that when the World Federation of United Nations Associations was formed in 1946, its first President was a Swedish parliamentarian, [and woman,] Kerstin Hesselgren.

And it feels similarly natural that the current President, Bonian Golmohammadi, is also Swedish.

Sweden's work in the UN is characterised by its breadth, depth and commitment – in everything from UN development policy efforts to the law of the sea and preserving marine biodiversity.

Allow me to cite a few current UN issues to illustrate this breadth.

Since 2014, Sweden has contributed an intelligence unit comprising around 250 personnel to the UN operations in Mali.

This has given us an insight into the major challenges the UN is facing, not least the threat to civilian populations and operations personnel.

Sweden continues to work for zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuses in UN contexts.

The UN also serves as the hub of the humanitarian system. Today, there are 125 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

This year, the first global humanitarian summit was held. We can be proud that Sweden is one of the very largest humanitarian donors, even in absolute terms.

I would like to touch briefly on the issue of migration. The UN summit on migration held on 19 September was an important step towards finding innovative and sustainable solutions for the world's 65 million refugees and internally displaced people.

And to create the conditions for secure, orderly and regulated migration for the world's 244 million migrants.

The summit marked the beginning of a process, and the follow-up will be crucial. Naturally, Sweden will take part in this work.

Disarmament has been on the UN's agenda ever since the organisation was formed.

In times of increasing armament, voices for disarmament must continue to be heard.

In a worsened security policy climate, status quo in the area of disarmament implies greater risks for all.

Within weeks, the First Committee of the General Assembly will decide on the resolution to begin negotiations on a global ban on nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction that are still not banned outright.

And I am very proud to announce that the Government this week decided to back this resolution.

It is a crucial step towards a world free of nuclear weapons.

For a week now, we have also known who will be the next Secretary-General of the United Nations – António Guterres of Portugal.

The world needs a courageous and strong Secretary-General with vision and drive, who will work for peace, gender equality, human rights and sustainable development in line with the UN Charter.

I look forward to working with Mr Guterres – not least during Sweden's presidency of the UN Security Council, which begins as Mr Guterres takes office in January 2017.

***

Friends,

On 28 June this year, Sweden was elected by a comfortable margin as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

I am honoured by, and proud of, the confidence that the countries of the world have shown in us. Our seat on the Security Council is a testament to the Government's global policy for sustainable peace and development.

The UN Charter gives the UN Security Council ultimate responsibility for maintaining international peace and security.

The Security Council must therefore be the guarantor of key principles and rules in the multilateral system. In turn, this system is the foundation of our security policy and of most of our cooperation with other states.

So how can Sweden's seat on the Security Council contribute to a more peaceful world? And what are Sweden's priorities ahead of our membership of the Security Council?

The Security Council agenda is dominated by country-specific issues. Sweden must be a professional and principled member that takes responsibility for the entire Security Council agenda.

We must also be prepared for the unexpected. The Security Council agenda is partly steered by events, and the Council's focus can be adjusted heavily based on major events in the world.

Imagine, for example, what happened to the agenda when the Arab Spring broke out.

Sweden's actions in the Security Council will be informed by values and principles: international law, human rights, gender equality and a humanitarian perspective.

Standing up for international law in the Security Council is both a means to ensure that policy is formulated within the framework of the UN Charter and international law, and an end in itself.

We will bring our foreign policy priorities to the Security Council: the importance of preventing conflict and relapse into conflict, the inclusion of women in peace processes, and the connection between security and development.

Sweden will work on these issues – particularly within the points already on the Security Council agenda – to ensure the greatest possible impact 'on the ground'.

All of our work on the Security Council will be informed by a gender equality perspective.

Equality between women and men is a goal in itself, but it is also a prerequisite if we are to achieve international peace and security.

Last year, the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva published a study showing that peace processes in which women were included also lead to more peace treaties and more sustainable peace.

Therefore, more women must participate as mediators in peace processes, and take part in peacekeeping missions.

The international community must move from words to deeds in implementing commitments for women, peace and security.

We want the strong wording with respect to women, peace and security in the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMA) to spread to other UN resolutions.

We want recognition for the peacebuilding efforts of Colombia's women. We want Mali to be urged to do more to include women in its peace process.

And for Somalia to actually live up to its commitment to a quota of 30 per cent women in the next parliament in the election that is still being delayed.

In recent weeks, the situation in Syria has deteriorated even further. It is unacceptable to bomb civilian populations, attacks hospitals and target humanitarian convoys.

This cannot be allowed to continue, and it is appalling that the Security Council has failed – mainly due to the Russian veto – to achieve consensus on this issue.

Our membership of the Security Council offers us an opportunity in yet another arena to contribute to creating the conditions for a peace process in Syria. We are already supporting the process by ensuring that civil society and women are present at the talks being held.

We will work for increased prospects of humanitarian assistance getting through, and improved compliance with humanitarian law.

Our membership also offers an opportunity to improve the UN's capabilities to prevent conflicts turning into armed conflicts.

The Security Council must become better at reacting to signs of impending conflict. This requires a thorough understanding of the root causes of conflicts – including social, economic and political factors.

But it also means using Chapter VI of the United Nations Charter on the pacific settlement of disputes.

When Sweden takes its seat on the Security Council, we will therefore push for a fresh approach and a redoubling of efforts to prevent armed conflict.

Improved reporting to the Security Council from the UN field offices could improve the Council's risk assessments.

And enhanced cooperation with regional organisations such as the African Union and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, the Security Council can more effectively become closer to countries that risk becoming stages for war and conflict.

The new Secretary-General must also have sufficient courage and sufficient political scope to act. And the Security Council must have the courage to give the Secretary-General that scope.

Preventing armed conflict is a matter of both increased capabilities and a stronger will.

As a member of the Security Council, we will stand up for this – and for a strong Secretary-General.

This is our aim – and I have already contacted António Guterres to this effect.

In summary, let me say that Sweden's role will be to help ensure that Security Council decisions, which are binding on all 193 UN Member States, are as good and as effective as possible.

Because it is important to remember that Sweden is on the Council at the mandate of and on behalf of the General Assembly. We have been entrusted with a responsibility.

And we will discharge our duty with pride and with principle, in dialogue with the other fourteen members of the Security Council, with the countries on the Council's agenda, and with countries that contribute troops to UN operations.

We will not only talk about countries, we will talk with countries.

We will bring our Swedish perspective to the UN's inner sanctum. We know who we are, what we stand for and what we want.

At the same time, we must be realistic.

We also know that the world, and the other fourteen members of the Council, five of whom have a veto, do not always share our views.

This is a reality in relation to which we will have to position ourselves, using the tools of diplomacy and dialogue.

***

Friends,

Transparency and dialogue will be the hallmarks of Sweden's membership of the Security Council. We will work for more efficient working methods in the Council. And we will continue to contribute to strengthening cooperation between the UN and the EU.

This transparent approach will also be the hallmark of our work at home in Sweden.

The Riksdag's Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs will be kept informed.

Civil society will regularly be invited to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs for dialogue – the first meeting took place in September.

And I have myself established a reference council for our Security Council membership. It consists of fifteen members, participating in a personal capacity, from academia, government agencies and civil society.

The reference council last met on Wednesday, and the United Nations Association's own President, Aleksander Gabelic, is among the members.

I know that this council will have important perspectives to contribute.

Friends of the UN,

My time is almost up, and I would therefore like to conclude with what are actually the crucial questions.

Why is the UN really needed? And why do we celebrate United Nations Day?

By way of an answer, I would like to refer to the United Nations Charter.

The UN is needed to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.

And the UN is needed for its work on fundamental human rights, and for the dignity and worth of every human being, and for equal rights for men and women.

So simple – and yet so difficult.

I think you will agree that it is particularly important to celebrate United Nations Day this year, when the world and the UN are facing so many challenges.

I think that by gathering here today, we are showing that we believe in the UN as an concept. But also that we are showing that we want a reinvigorated and strong UN with the conditions to work in the service of peace – in practice.

But this also requires us to see the bigger picture, and to understand that issues such as peace, development, climate, security and human rights are all interdependent.

Sweden will be a caring critic of the UN. A friend who always wishes well, but is not afraid to speak out when mistakes are made.

And I think that we celebrate United Nations Day to remind ourselves and the world that our joint efforts for the UN have taken us some way down the path

– but also to remind us that we are not even close to our destination.

When UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited Stockholm earlier this year, he said that "Sweden is a superpower of solidarity, dialogue and cooperation".

I am proud to represent such a country.

Together with you, I look forward to continuing to work for an effective UN with popular support that is in tune with the times – and for a Sweden that continues to stand up for the UN's principles for the next seventy years.

Thank you.

Contact

Erik Wirkensjö
Press Secretary to Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallström
Phone +46 (0) 8 405 54 73
Mobile +46 (0) 7031 76 471
email to Erik Wirkensjö